“There was a real sense that they felt betrayed,” said Dr. Frey, who is now on the staff of Erie County Medical Center, and who recently started The Prudent Plastic Surgeon, an investment advice website aimed at his fellow doctors. “We got a lot of, ‘How can you leave? New York is struggling, and you need to be supportive. And it was made clear to me that I wasn’t doing that. Our way of handling it was to emphasize to our friends that we loved New York City and that we weren’t abandoning it in a time of need. But we still felt judged.”
Of course, moving is always a big deal, and not just for the people who are boxing up their possessions. The ground also trembles under the feet of the friends who remain behind, and who could be forgiven for feeling that U-Haul is breaking up the old gang.
But when the city that’s being left is New York, the level of attendant annoyance seems especially high; it feels like a personal insult to friends of the soon-to-be ex-resident. Now factor in the pandemic, and distress starts moving into the red zone — indignation.
“The people who moved out of New York during Covid made the decision that the city wasn’t safe enough, wasn’t appealing enough, wasn’t good enough, was too expensive,” said Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “And their friends may see that as an indictment of their own choice, especially if they’re ambivalent about their choice. A defense might be, ‘I’m a loyal person and I’m being loyal to my city, and you all are abandoning it.’”
The abandonment charge was especially painful for Joel Schnell, 72, a lifelong New Yorker — that is, until last year, when he lost his income and also became increasingly concerned about his 97-year-old mother living alone in Florida.
“So: pandemic, no income, my mother … We thought it was time to go to the beach and hide,” said Mr. Schell, who works in women’s fashion. “The truth is we were scared being in New York.”
The pandemic was raging in November of 2020 — and so, as a matter of fact, were some of Mr. Schnell’s friends — when he and his wife, Lynne White, a former news anchor, sold their co-op on the Lower East Side and lit out for a two-bedroom rental in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.